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How To Break The Cycle Of Stress Eating

How To Break The Cycle of Stress Eating

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Many of us have an emotional relationship with food. Stress eating can often be an unconscious eating triggered by emotion. So, how can you break the cycle and improve your relationship with food?

Key Takeaways

  1. Many of us turn to food to deal with stress
  2. Chronic life stress may be linked to weight gain and stress-induced eating
  3. There is also a risk of undereating as well as overeating
  4. There a number of ways you can improve your relationship with food

Eating food is seen as a pleasurable experience which gives many of us an emotional connection. We can often turn to food to help cope with feelings of stress or boredom and many of us food as a reward. The short-term pleasure of eating can often turn to feelings of guilt and shame and for many this emotional eating habit can become an issue.

Relationship Between Stress and Eating

Chronic life stress appears to be associated with a greater preference for energy and nutrient dense food, which are those that are high in sugar and fat. Research suggests that chronic life stress may be causally linked to weight gain and stress-induced eating may be one of factory contributing to the development of obesity.

It is important to note that stress can also lead to undereating as well as overeating. A study of 158 subjects who completed daily records of stress and eating for 84 days showed that individuals were much more likely to eat less than usual than to eat more than usual in response to stressful daily problems.

However, there is also an increased risk of obesity amongst socioeconomically disadvantaged populations with emerging evidence suggesting that psychological stress may be a key factor in this relationship. Higher perceived stress in women is associated with a higher BMI and more frequent fast food consumption.

How To Break The Cycle

Only eat when you are hungry

This may sound obvious but many of us eat as an emotional trigger when we are not actually physically hungry. Ask yourself the question “Am I really hungry right now?” before you eat or is just something you are feeling.

Improve Your Sleep

Getting a better nights sleep can help improve your mood and stop you form being tried which can leave you more open to emotional eating.

Reward Yourself

If you are using food as a reward to deal with stress then try and find other ways to reward yourself. This will vary for each of us but it could be having a bath, listening to music, having a massage or anything else that makes you feel good.

Love Yourself

One of the main reasons many of us overeat is due to a negative view of our own bodies. It is important to learn to love yourself and feel comfortable in your own skin. If you are more confident in yourself, you are less likely to turn to food for comfort.

Eat Well

When we you are really hungry you are less able to fight off cravings so try to eat regular meals during the day. Sit down to eat your meals without any distractions and eat mindfully with a focus on the taste of the good.

Slow Down

Try not to overwhelm yourself with a full diary. Take breaks throughout the day and make sure you take some time off if you are feeling stressed. Break up your day with exercise such as a walk or run. Exercise can reduce stress and help you connect with your physical self.



Torres, Susan J., and Caryl A. Nowson. “Relationship between stress, eating behavior, and obesity.” Nutrition 23.11-12 (2007): 887-894.

Adam, Tanja C., and Elissa S. Epel. “Stress, eating and the reward system.” Physiology & behavior 91.4 (2007): 449-458.

Stone, Arthur A., and Kelly D. Brownell. “The stress-eating paradox: multiple daily measurements in adult males and females.” Psychology and Health 9.6 (1994): 425-436.

Mouchacca, Jennifer, Gavin R. Abbott, and Kylie Ball. “Associations between psychological stress, eating, physical activity, sedentary behaviours and body weight among women: a longitudinal study.” BMC public health 13.1 (2013): 828.

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